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Collection Development with Litteratura Iuris, or, Heads Will Roll – Pic of the Week

This week’s Pic of the Week post gives you a glimpse of, well, something that defies all expectations…

Litteratura Iuris

Sifting out unwanted heads: A gruesome metaphor for collection development from the title page of Karl Ferdinand Hommel’s Litteratura Iuris (second edition), 1779.

The image above depicts an engraving of a person (arms only) shaking a sieve full of the dismembered heads of several species, including human beings, so that all of the animal heads fall out and only the human heads remain.  What could this mean?

The engraving appears on the title page of a book entitled Litteratura Iuris (Editio Secunda) by the German academic legal scholar Karl Ferdinand Hommel (1722-1781).  Hommel’s book is a bibliographical guide to the literature of the law.  In it, the author divides the legal literature of his day into categories and then presents bibliographical essays that walk the practicing lawyer through the maze of books and scholars for each of the various fields of law.  There are essays on biblical law, on the literature of the civil law, on canon law, on public law, on customary law and others.  Especially interesting are his essays on rare books, on prohibited books and on literary fraud: plagiarism and false attributions of authorship.  The second part of the book is a collection of biographical essays on the lives of the most important people in legal scholarship from the 12th to the 18th Century.

Throughout the work, Hommel conscientiously relates to the problems of reducing a guidebook for the literature of the law to the size of a single volume, explaining his method and his outlook at each turn.  In the preface to the first edition of the work (1761), he suggests that a handful of the essays from the first half of the work will give you the keys to developing a highly scaled down, but excellent collection of law books: “notitia librorum exhibetur, neque tamen omnium, sed classicorum tantum, quos si quis possideat, de parva quidem, sed splendida et selectissima iuris bibliotheca sibi gratulari possit.”  But what’s the price of scaling down a collection?  Sifting out the lesser creatures…


50 Candles for the Criminal Justice Act

On Tuesday, August 20, the Law Library of Congress and the Federal Bar Association (FBA) Criminal Law Section co-hosted a program called “The Criminal Justice Act at 50 – The Past, Present, and Future of the Right to Counsel in the Federal Courts.” The event marked the beginning of a year-long commemoration of the 50th […]

Laws of Thailand – Global Legal Collection Highlights

The following is a guest post by Chayada Polpun, a summer intern working in the Global Legal Research Center (GLRC),  Law Library of Congress. I interviewed Chayada recently. You can learn about Chayada’s background and her work at GLRC by reading her interview which was published in In Custodia Legis on August 22, 2013. It is my pleasure to share my experience […]

No Taxation Without Representation Circa 1215 AD, or, Magna Carta: A Beginner’s Guide

Magna Carta, the Charter of Liberties sealed by King John of England in 1215 AD, is routinely cited as one of the most important documents of our constitutional tradition.  It ranks with the English Bill of Rights (1689), The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution in symbolic power.  And while the details of […]

The Law Library at the ABA Annual Meeting 2013 – Pic of the Week

  Matthew Braun and Barbara Bavis represented the Law Library of Congress at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco earlier this month.  Matthew and Barbara presented “How to Conduct Free Legal Research Online” – a wildly successful course that counted for Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits. The conference’s expo featured a booth where the […]

Global Legal Monitor: June and July Highlights

This installment of my Global Legal Monitor (GLM) Highlights post combines June and July GLM articles.  The articles published in the two months addressed a wide range of legal subjects: Banks and financial institutions; Communications and electronic information; Criminal law and procedure; Education; Immigration; Labor; and Nationality and citizenship.  Below is a list of the top […]